Friday, 31 December 2010

Good News #5: Lot of Good Music, Even if the CBC/Radio Can Isn't Broadcasting as Much

Christopher Huss in Le Devoir recently gave a list of the 1o best classical concerts of 2010 in Montreal and, wonder of wonders, we actually heard two of them. He gave high marks to closing concert of the Bach festival, a performance of the Six Suites for Cello, played by Jean-Guihen Queyras.

The Ensemble Arion concert with the captivating Italian violinist Stefano Montanari playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons was also terrific. Here he is doing a whistling rehearsal of the work with that other excellent Canadian group Tafelmusik

We also very much liked Laura Andriani's performance of Bach's partitas and sonatas for violin, presented by Da Capo in November. Huss didn't attend: if he had, I'm sure he would have loved it.

But the sad state of serious music on the CBC and Radio Canada was brought home in December when we went 10 days without our CDs while they were being cleaned after the fire, and had to listen to the radio to get our music fix. Nothing of interest most evenings, and we ended up listening to the classical music station, commercials and all, CJPX. It was better than nothing, but their play list got rather repetitive. The station appears to be holding its own, according to PPM ratings which hover around 4.3 per cent of the Franco market share and 2.4 per cent of the Anglo market.

As for the "music" sevices of our public broadcasters, between the spring and fall 2010 periods Espace Musique dropped from 2.1 to 1.5, while Radio Two went up a bit from 2.5 to 3.1. Can that be due to more classical concerts being promoted in the evenings? Would like to be able to have more detailed information, but that's something you got to pay for handsomely.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Good News #4: Some People Aren't Afraid to Speak Out

As the year winds down and I search for good news, it is heartening to find a few public figures who say tough things. One of them is Claudette Carbonneau, president of the Quebec union federation, the Confération des syndicats nationaux (CSN.) Often considered the most militant union group, the CSN has often taken strong leftish positions, but this time Carbonneau is scathing in her attack on the rise of the Right in Quebec.

The recent scandals involving the Quebec Liberal Party, various elements of the construction industry and political fund-raising have increased cynicism in the public and created a fertile field in which Right wing forces to sow their ideas, Carbonneau said in an interview published in Le Devoir. But the solutions proposedby the Right such as disengagement of the government and privatization of health care are not likely to be accepted by the Quebec public, which has said repeatedly in surveys that when faced with cuts in services and higher taxes, it would prefer the latter. Certainly the CSN will fight these right wing ideas, Carbonneau said.

That's good news. So is the fact that Amir Khadir, the physician-politician who is the only Québec Solitaire member of the Quebec legislative assembly, has won more than one popularity poll recently as the most respected public figure in the province.

With examples like that we can't quit fighting, can we?

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Good News # 3: Quebeckers Are Concerned about the Health System

Le Devoir carried the results of a poll conducted by Senergis yesterday which showed that health has taken a jump in the concerns of Quebecois. Fifty-two per cent put health at the top of their priorities compared to 29 per cent in 2009.

It isn't clear from the story exactly what aspects of health and the health system the 1000 persons who answered the questions had in mind, and even less clear how they'd like to see the problems solved. But what is clear that this very important aspect of our social arrangements may finally get the attention it deserves. What remains to be seen is whether good solutions are proposed by citizens' groups and the government.

And this, of course, where the good news may turn to bad news. It is quite clear that many of the players think that a two tier system, with much less public involvement in the payment of health services, is the way to go. Provincial Finance Minister Raymond Bachand has promised to propose user fees again, even though evidence strongly shows that they cost more in the long run and without doubt create inequities. The trick this year will be to channel the public's concern into real reforms, including beating back the idea that private involvement is efficient and cheaper.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Good News # 2: A Zamboni Driver from Zambia

Integrating into a new society is not easy, and it's always edifying to hear about immigrants who have done well. The Canwest papers have one such story today: Gift Marufu, a horticulturalist by day, has taken up making ice in his off hours at the University of Sasketchewan's hockey rink. Apparently he's very good at it, and delights in telling the folks back home about what it's like.

One of the things I've frequently taken with me in my travels is postcards of Montreal in the winter. In 2001 I remember a family in Tanzania shaking their heads in disbelief when I explained that those big white banks of what appeared to be stone were really piles of snow lining the streets. That kind of surprise may be less common now, with more access to the internet, but nevertheless the difference in climates is one of the immigrant's biggest challenges.

And while Saskatoon's Marufu obviously has taken to winter the way a polar bear does to ice floes, the newspaper story doesn't explain how he got the gig making ice. He apparently is "a divisional manager for an agriculture-based biotech company." One hopes that the Zamboni job is something he took as a student and has continued because he likes it, not because he's underemployed...

Monday, 27 December 2010

Good News # 1; Countdown to 2011

Yes, it was a lovely Christmas holiday. Much good fellowship, food, drink and things to read and listen too. After our rough early December I think we should finish it off with a list of good news stories.

The first is from yesterday's New York Times, about inexpensive solar panels making their way into Africa.

One of the things I remember from my trip to Burundi and Tanzania nearly 10 years ago, was the way my night flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam crossed a wide expanse of darkness. At the same time, one of the people I met in Nairobi was a Senagalese-Canadian engineer who was working in several African countries, setting up mobile phone networks. Communication to the outside world was coming to places that would never have gotten it, had the only technology been landlines.

It appears that something similar is happening with electrical hookups. No need for massive power projects when you can get a solar panel for the cost of goat which will provide enough power for a couple of electric lights and charging cellphones. The energy is truly clean too.

Here's another project, as postedby, and apparently from Dutch television.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Saturday Photo and all That: Closing Down for the Holidays

This is the view across the street from our third floor window. Mont Royal Boulevard is not a very wide street at this point and it seems we can almost touch the buildings across the way. When the snow falls in big swirling flakes, I'm reminded of the view we get from the second balcony at The Nutcracker given by the Grands Ballets canadiens during the opening scene when the revellers arrive for the big Christmas party.

Five of the six adults will be attending the ballet once again this year--someone, perhaps me if I'm lucky--will be staying home to look after Jeanne when we go next week. Before then there will be potato sausage to make and many other delicious things to eat.

In order to get everything taken care of, I'm signing off for a couple of days. But if you'd like, check out our holiday blog.

It Doesn't Matter If It's Climate Change: We Must Prepare for Extreme Weather

Capering Parisians are the upside of the weird weather we've been having. But elsewhere the fallout/snowfall/rain have presented bigger problems. This may not be due to global warming and climate change, but it certainly means we should prepare more carefully for increasingly bad weather.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Making Your Private Life Public: Guys Succumb to the Lure of the Vague Confession on Facebook

Lots of talk these days about how Facebook and the other social media are invading people's privacy unduly. But there's another interesting side to this: in the last couple of weeks three young men of my acquaintance have dropped bombshells about their secret woes on their Facebook pages, and then not elaborated.

What are you supposed to do in these circumstances? Offer condolences? Rush over with cookies? Beg for more details? Certainly they are fishing for some kind of reaction, but what and from whom?

I find it passing strange that no woman I know has done anything similar. If there's a status change, they'll note what has happened. Or else they'll just carry on. Maybe guys really are the softer, squishier gender and have found a 21st century way of showing it, hoping that they'll be better understood or whatever.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Last Day of School Lots of Places, First Day of Winter: Time to REcognize the Work of Teachers

This is a video posted last spring during negotiations between Quebec and public school teachers. An agreement was finally worked out, but the fight for proper recognition and support for public schools continues. The song is a reworking of a very popular bittersweet one by a group called Les Aiëux which chronicles progress and lack of progress in Quebec.

Here are the original words, with a translation from the blog From Now On . I can't find the name of the person who did it, but thanks to him. The song elicited considerable brouhaha among Pro-Life forces since it seems to be anti-abortion. The group came out strongly against that idea, and since has allowed it to be used by a number of progressive groups, like the teachers' union.

Ton arrière-arrière grand-père (Your great-great-grandfather)
Il a défriché la terre (He has cleared the land)
Ton arrière-grand-père (Your great-grandfather )
Il a labouré la terre (He has ploughed the land)
Et pis ton grand-père (And then your grandfather)
A rentabilisé la terre (made money with the land)
Et pis ton père y l'a vendu (And then your father sold it)
Pour devenir fonctionnaire (To become a state employee)

Et puis toé mon ptit gars (And then you lil' guy )
Tu sais pu c'que tu vas faire (You don’t know what you will do)
Dans ton ptit trois et demi (In your small apartment)
Ben trop cher frête en hiver (Too expensive and cold in winter)
Il te vient des envies (You have desires)
De devenir propriétaire (To become a home owner)
Et tu rêves la nuit (And you dream at night)
D'avoir ton petit lopin d'terre.. (Of owning your little piece of land…)

Ton arrière-arrière grand-mère (Your great-great-grandmother)
Elle a eue quatorze enfants (Gave birth to 14 children)
Ton arrière grand-mère (Your great-grandmother )
En a eue quasiment autant (Had almost as many )
Et pis ta grand-mère (And then your grandmother)
En a eue trois s'tait suffisant (Had only 3 it was enough)
Pis ta mère en voulait pas (And then your mother didn’t want any)
Toé t'était un accident (You were an accident)

Et puis toé ma tite fille (And then you lil' girl)
Tu changes de partenaire tout le temps (You swap partners all the time)
Quand tu fais des conneries (When you’re in trouble)
Tu t'en sauves en avortant (You save yourself by aborting)
mais ya des matins (But on some mornings)
Tu te réveilles en pleurant (You wake-up crying)
Quand tu rêves la nuit... (When you dream at night…)
D'une grande table entourée d'enfants... (Of a large table surrounded by children)

Ton arrière arrière grand-père (Your great-great-grandfather)
À vécu la grosse misère (Has lived in extreme poverty)
Ton arrière grand père (Your great-grandfather )
Il ramassait les cennes noires (He saved every penny)
Et pis ton grand-père (And then your grandfather)
Miracle yé devenu millionnaire (Miracle, has become millionaire)
Ton père en a hérité (Your father inherited)
Y l'a toute mis dans ses REER (And putted all in his RRSP)

Et puis toé tite jeunesse (And then you lil' youth)
Tu doit ton cul au ministère (You owe your butt to the government)
Pas moyen d'avoir un prêt (There’s no way you can have a loan)
Dans une institution bancaire (At a financial institute)
Pour calmer tes envies (For easing your desires)
De Holdoper la caissière (To hold-up the cashier)
Tu lis des livres qui parle (You read books about)
De simplicité volontaire... (the voluntary simplicity.. )

Tes arrières arrières grands-parents (Your great-great-grandparents)
Ils savaient comment fêter (Knew how to celebrate)
Tes arrières grands-parents (Your great-grandparents )
Ça swingnait fort dans les veillées (Were swinging hard in the parties)
Pis tes grands-parents (And then your grandparents)
Ont connus l'époque YÉYÉ (Live the Yé-Yé era )
Tes parents c’tait des Disco (For your parents it was the Discos)
C’ la qu'ils se sont rencontrés (That is where they have met)

Et puis toé mon ami (And then you my friend)
Qu’es que tu fais de ta soirée (What are you doing tonight)
Éteint donc ta T.V (Shut off your T.V. )
faut pas rester encabanné (You shouldn’t stay locked inside)
Heureusement que dans vie (It’s a good thing that in life )
Certaines choses refusent de changer (Some things refuse to change)
Enfilent tes plus beaux habits (Put on your nicest clothes)
car nous allons ce soir dansés....... ( ‘cause we’re going out to dance…)

Monday, 20 December 2010

Time to Take a Lesson from Alex the Great: Afghanistan is Not to Be Taken

Thirty-one years ago this week, I remember nursing our little red-haired baby boy while I listened to news of the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan. Memories of the American misadventure in Vietnam were very recent, and I was so happy that this small person would never be drafted by the country he was born in--Canada--to go off and fight in a foreign war of such stupidity.

He wasn't, of course, but the news this morning is of another Canadian soldier being killed by the quaintly-named "improvised explosive device." Corporal Steve Martin of the Royal 22e Regiment would have been 25 this week. The official picture shows him as a big-eared, affable-looking red head, who had arrived in Kandahar only three weeks before. His death is the 154th Canadian casualty in this war that has been going on so long.

You'd think that by know the military giants of this world would have realized what that other red-haired soldier learned more than 2000 years ago. Alexander the Great never was able to hold the highlands of Afghanistan, and nobody has succeeded since then. Somehow an accommodation must be found with the local people. If change is going to come, it will be by means other than military.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Saturday Photo: Life on The Plateau

You live in a city for decades, and think you know it well because of all the walking you've done. And then you find yourself forced out of your usual circuit to discover the story behind things you already knew.

Take, for example, the district called Le Plateau. It is a little east and south of where we've lived and I always knew it was relatively flat. What I didn't realize is just how flat it is, and how as the city grew away from the St. Lawrence, it must truly have seemed a higher plateau than the riverside. What we have here is a picture taken from the terrace on top of the three story building where we're living now. You can see Mount Royal with the emblemantic cross on top. (Click on the picture to get a better look.)

The original cross was hoisted not quite 368 years ago during the first winter of settlement here. On Christmas Eve 1642 an ice jam on the St. Lawrence caused flooding in the village founded the previous spring by Paul de Chomemdy de Maisonnneuve. He vowed that if the settlement were spared devastation, he'd carry a cross to the top of the mountain. While Amerindian paths led around the mountain--Côte Ste-Catherine Road which I've written about before is an example--it's likely Maisonneuve's hike on January 6, 1643 was pretty tough going.

The current lighted cross went up in 1924, sponsored by the nationalist (and at the time quite Catholic) Société de Saint-Jean-Baptiste. It was refurbished with public funds a few years ago, amid questions about its place in a city and province that now officially non-laic. A symbol from the past that can't be denied, it was argued. Now I can see it from the bedroom of this quite nice apartment where we're holed up for the duration.

Friday, 17 December 2010

24 Salt Herring for the 12 Days of Christmas

The bowl of salt herring, soaking in fresh water in prepartion for being made into sil, is a measure of how things are reaching a new equilibrium around here.

Swedish pickled herring is a Soderstrom favourite, one of the dishes that the gang agreed had to be on the table during the holidays this year, despite the disruptions. (The others include cardamom cookies or peppakakor, buttery spritz cookies, my grandmother McDonald's Five Roses chocolate cookies, potato sausage, plus Sophie's mocha torte and Emmanuel's eggs benedict.)

It takes a good week for the herring to get properly imbued with the marinade so this morning I spent a couple of hours boning, skinning and cutting up two dozen herring. Now I think I'll take a nap to see if I can get rid of the terrible cough that arrived on the heels the fire.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

As the Snow Piles up, Bits of Christmas in Other Places

My excellent Brazilian teacher Alice called yeseterday to say that she is off to spend the holidays with her family in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She has made the adjustment to Quebec amazingly well, but you can tell she really enjoys spending part of our winter in a warmer clime. So in honour of her, here's a video of a Christmas festival in her home city, just posted to YouTube by some kind soul.

And for music in another register, literally, you'll find just below another videoclip, this one made by Portuguese harpsichordist Miguel Jalôto, who was a student at The Hague when Elin was there.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Canadian Welfare Is Harder and Harder to Get: When the Social Safety Net Doesn't Work

Being poor is not easy, and trying to get help is harder still. Those are two of the conclusions to draw from a report of the National Welfare Council, released earlier this week. The data used are from 2009, but there's no hint that things have gotten any better.

In fact, over the last several years, the rules governing who gets social assistance and how to qualify for it have gotten tougher and tougher. Essentially, you have to have nothing--no savings, no car, no possessions that are valued at more than a couple of hundred dollars. Forget it if you've socked something away for retirement, or if you're living in a rural area on a scrap of land you might have inherited, or if you've got burial insurance, or households goods like a TV and kitchen equipment that are worth more than $150 or $200 (the cut off in most provinces, according to the report.

This means that if you've run out of your EI benefits, you've got to sell nearly everything before you can qualify for welfare. The result is a "perfect poverty trap without an escape hatch," NWC chair John Rook said in presenting the report earlier this week.

Canada does better when it comes to employment insurance than does the US, without a doubt. But the experiences of the last two weeks--when we saw our lives turned upsidedown by a fire--bring a sharp appreciation of how tough it is keep afloat in troubled times.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Saturday Photo: What the Fire Damage Looked Like Immediately Following

The computers came back yesterday, so I was finally able to upload the pictures I took immediately after the fire. This is what the firemen did to make sure the fire had not jumped the common wall. Since then the insurers have taken down all the lath and plaster on the wall to the brick, as well as much of the ceiling in the stairwell and the back bedroom.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Not Quite Tudo Bem, But What An Interesting Coincidence!

Life does some funny stuff. After more than three decades in Outremont, we find ourselves in Mile End, the bairro portugues to be exact. The apartment, found by insurers for us, appears to be owned by a Brazilian: it comes complete with books in Portuguese!

The computers are supposed to come back tomorrow or the first of the week, all nice and clean, so I hope to get back to the usual ranting soon.

Atè breve e beijinhos

Monday, 6 December 2010

Saturday Photo: None this week, but maybe next week

All right, we're moved into an apartment for 2-3 months, and life continues. Only it will be a few days before the computers are back from the cleaners. Oh, life is complicated

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Fire Is Not Cool

Had a major fire next door, which left us with smoke and collateral damage. I'll probably be keeping radio silence for the next few days.

But we're fine, and the insurance company seems to be doing the right thing.